Based on the true story of an English midland town in the year 1666 that quarantined itself to sweat out the bubonic plague, Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague reminds me of the private school campus where I live with my family in the suburbs of Baltimore, the year 2012....more
Posts Tagged: the last book i loved
It’s easy to write off one author based on a best-seller. Call it jealousy, call it high-end literary disdain, call it whatever you want, but it’s easy to give in to the impulse to distrust something once it’s become popular. This indeed was my reaction to the author Elizabeth Gilbert, who I (as many others) first encountered by way of her memoir-cum-chick-lit classic Eat, Pray, Love....more
In the mid-1980s, I fled Ronald Reagan’s America for the jungles of Costa Rica. Before leaving–forever, I thought–I shipped two boxes of paperbacks to the tropics. I would soon read every book from those boxes plus anything else I could grab in hopes of explaining a world gone mad....more
I was told this as though it is impossible for mature adults to be vulnerable....more
The moment when a new book is begun it is a moment that vibrates, as potential energy (a writer’s wisdom distilled into a completed work, printed, bound, placed in your hands), converted slowly into kinetic energy (second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day) with each turn of the page....more
For an Irish person, that’s a weighty question to consider. I guess that in some other incarnation of myself I might have found the glistening cobblestones of Montmartre immeasurably romantic but with my fiancé away on tour and being (scarcely) self-employed, the dampness weighed down heavily on my mood, pushing me into a period of semi-hibernation....more
One of the first things that became apparent while reading Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins was a gentle spiraling, a contracting of the scope of the novel, from the streets of Bulawayo to the small village of Kezi via the local gathering place Thandabantu; from Thenjiwe and her unnamed lover to her sister Nonceba; contracting into a pinpoint during the murder of Thenjiwe and the rape and mutilation of Nonceba....more
Have you ever read a book about a sensational event that isn’t sensational itself? That manages to transcend the shocking element to reveal a much more interesting and nuanced story, which then helps you begin to comprehend, even if not accept, the things that happen in extraordinary circumstances?...more
I read Alice Munro’s books in benders. It usually takes me less than two days to finish one of her collections, and while reading it, I make and break promises to myself—to stop after this story, to take a shower, to run an errand just for the exercise or maybe see a friend (or else around eleven PM, I will find myself regretting how restless and dirty I am, still in last night’s pajamas, which are now exactly my body temperature.)...more
Maps, at their best, are more than representations of the world. They are worlds unto themselves—endlessly explorable, enigmatic, complicated, and alive. I remember the first globe I owned as a kid. I liked to spin it on its axis, as hard as I could, as if it were the big-money wheel from some cheesy game show, Wheel of Fortune or The Price is Right....more
The last book that I loved was You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, which is about two friends, Will and Hand, who come into $32,000 around the same time one of their friends dies unexpectedly.
They are devastated by his death, and decide that they can’t keep the money because of the pain it represents....more
There are too many good writers for me to keep track of so, mostly for the sake of convenience, I categorize them: Koontz writes thrillers, Franzen does literature, King fills the world with horror, Snickett delights children.
The problem is that this pigeon-hole system, though it works with some authors, it woefully misrepresents others to the point of exclusion....more
It was in Crete that I first came to curse short skirts. Six of them — three cotton, two denim — I had with me in a navy blue American Traveler suitcase, which sat, for the duration of my three-week vacation in the small fishing village of Mochlos, atop a rickety luggage rack in the corner of a small bedroom in a thirty euro a night pension....more
According to Europa Edition’s website, Elena Ferrante, one of Italy’s most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, has successfully shunned public attention and kept her whereabouts and her true identity concealed. I understand.
Troubling Love is a brilliant rendering of a woman who looks too closely at love and sex....more
Every time I watch a porno—whether it’s Lesbians in the Produce Section or Cheerleader Tryouts with Coach Lester—I start critiquing the plot, the acting, and even the lighting. Why doesn’t, I ask myself, a real director make a porno, a real director with trained thespians and a script from a literary talent; but not just a porno—a smut flick, an all-out fuckfest?!...more
I didn’t need any books: I was finishing up grad school in Idaho and moving to—well—that wasn’t quite known to me. But here was a building on the Latah County Fairgrounds full of books, and here was Satori in Paris by Jack Kerouac among them, a slim Black Cat paperback with a blue Eiffel Tower backed in red on the cover....more
How our living selves affect the afterlife has been, and will continue to be, a matter of debate. In literature alone, countless stories have explored the stages of death, of grieving, and that of otherworldly retribution. In Midnight Picnic, Nick Antosca leaves religion out of the discussion and instead explores feelings of abandonment, anger and regret....more
Why is the second person such a natural and addictive tense–perhaps the only honest one–when writing about drug abuse and a foggy recovery?
For years, you haven’t been able to stop asking this question. Reading Patrick deWitt’s Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, you are asking it again, vocally (a real dinner-party silencer), by mistake or with motivations hidden from even yourself....more
I remember being 18 years old, secretly thinking that all the good writers were dead or past their prime. I wanted to be born in the twenties, where wilderness was untamed and fiction was wide open. I knew there must be someone great out there, but the only writers I had loved were the Hemingways and Steinbecks and Fitzgeralds I had come across in English class....more
I loved this book. Haunting prose. Exotic locale. Existentialist themes. I stayed up much too late to read it, enchanted – entranced even – only to wake up with bags under my eyes and vague memories of desert-sun dreams.
The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, is an incredible story of two people wrestling with (and running from) their freedom, as they rush about between desert towns, chasing a specter as ephemeral as the sand djinn, themselves – their love for each other....more
Everything from the theme of creation to the understated technique resonates; it is a book of poetry which has inspired both reflection and furious meditations of my own as I spin my own arcs from Bidart’s example. It is excellent art....more
“Remember, Lord, my ship is small and thy sea is so wide!” – Joshua Slocum, sailing through a storm south of Tierra del Fuego.
When Joshua Slocum (author of Sailing Alone Around the World, first published in Great Britain by Sampson Law in 1900) arrived in Apia, Samoa at the house of Robert Louis Stevenson on July 16, 1896, he was a third of the way to becoming first person to sail single-handedly around the world....more
Not Anne Carson....more
If he had not been such a pacifist, Kurt Vonnegut would have made a hell of a boxer.
I say this knowing full well that Vonnegut was not an impressive physical specimen. His posture was miserable, his countenance was haggard and his lungs were lacquered with so much tar from smoking unfiltered Pall Malls you’d have thought he’d spent his life paving interstate highways....more
I paid $2 for a bargain-bin copy of Best Music Writing 2007. The price tag still covers “s” and “i.”
It’s guest edited by Robert Christgau. I’d pay two dollars for anything with contributions by David Byrne, Sasha Frere-Jones, Jonathan Lethem and others because I have high expectations for those writers....more
In classic noir fashion, Sick City opens with a death.
Jeffrey, a male prostitute junkie, goes to wake up his lover and sugar daddy (a retired Los Angeles cop with a taste for kinky sex) only to find him dead. Author Tony O’Neill wastes no time in establishing his distinctive tone: “Jeffrey stared mutely at the body for a minute....more
The term “Horror Vacui” has two definitions, both of which serve as a useful framework while skirting the abyss hinted at throughout Heise’s alternately gloomy and beautiful poems....more